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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Twenty-nine years of insignificance


Modesty, frugality, adaptability and abstention from violence: these were the values that our family inculcated in us very strongly from very early on. Even though I could have grown, over time, much more arrogant than I earlier was, the other three virtues still have a significant presence within me. An eleven years old shirt remains my favorite and at one time, I was happy to have spent three or four winters without a proper jacket. On adapting to new circumstances, soon after passing SLC from a government school in a mountainous terrain, I was there in a premium +2 college in plains amid all those urban pupils from private schools. After two more years, I was in a medical school in one of the warmest place in Nepal. (And eventually, I spent one whole year in Bhairahawa without using a fan at night!!)

There is, however, a limit as to how much the parents can help or shape their children. After that, we have to create our own trails before walking. On a sunny but humid summer day some 13 years ago, my father saw me off from the nearest bus stop in Kushma and I left the cocoon of my village to join the endless insecurity of the city with my brother in Chitwan. Having well understood the importance of higher education, our parents had no second thoughts about sending us away for it. But mother would later recollect that she went to the solitude of the small bush near our house after seeing me off to empty the share of tears that belonged to me. 

For months and even years to come, a void was bound to be there in my life. During all the years in village, I had been the role model in the school. Having topped the district in the eighth grade, I was short of doing so in SLC exams but a score of 75% at that time was impressive. People from Kushma onwards (dozens of villages along a trail approximately 30 km long) to our home knew our father and we could easily introduce us to most people of such a large area by referring to his name. 

But in Chitwan, who were we? Nobody. Either as the rent-people or as the struggling village boys, our presence in the insurmountably large Chitwan was a very very obscure thing. My brother was saddened by the refusal of the college to discount some of my fee just because my score in SLC was below 80%. Given his static income and soaring expenditure on our education, father had given clear message: covering the expenses of our education up to the PCL level was his responsibility and thereafter we were on our own. By the time I joined him, brother had exhausted the last part of his lifeline from home and was in a desperate search for a job as he joined the Bachelors at Birendra Campus. Though father sent money to cover my college expenses, he had the responsibility to feed the two of us. 

The endless financial problems and the pervasive sense of nobodyness: I remember my +2 years with these persisting themes. I was not noticed by anybody in the college until some impressive performances in internal exams. Eventually I was noticed in classroom but by that time, in the waning years of teenage, I craved for a larger recognition and the sheer monotony and mundanity of daily life quietly tormented me from within. Who was I after all? How did my presence, rather existence, signify anything in this overcrowded world? Are we born just to eat, sleep, marry, procreate and die? Is there something great or enlightening about human life? If so, what is the path to such existence? Why everybody is so utterly and lamentably satisfied with his/her life? Why don't people cry out breaking this constricting monotony?

 In the meantime, I was closely analyzing the difference between the social interactions in the villages and the cities and the observations were striking. People with one exchange of words are often the friends for life in villages, it is usual for neighbors to squabble but it is unimaginable they are indifferent towards one another’s affairs. But there in the city, you saw one another’s face for year after year as neighbors but still you were the strangers. You were happy, it mattered to nobody; you were sad, nobody noticed. They would meekly watch if some others quarreled noisily, they would call police if someone was found hanging; that was all and everybody was a stranger the next day.

And slowly, I came to discover why the things were the way they were in city. And the reality was inescapable. People there had things more pressing than getting introduced with the new neighbors or keeping account of those all who resided within a kilometer of diameter around their home or so. Likewise working in the Asadhs and Mangirs only would keep them hungry during all other months, unlike in the villages. Believing the strangers and trusting the neighbors could lead to disasters in cities as the societies were governed by rules, not by trust.

Given this discrepancy between the two worlds between which I traveled so frequently, my sense of alienation from the crowd in the city was understandable. And in spite of that, I adapted to the new circumstances relatively well. With awareness of the fact that dad will no longer be able to cover my expenses after the class 12, any major breakthrough in my studies had to come during those two years. Moreover, bro's struggle to earn the livelihood was so uphill that moments of frank despair were fairly common. Having enrolled me in a private +2 in science despite the markedly added burden, both dad and bro expected me to avoid the kind of financial trouble that bro had to go through. Happily, these long-term considerations frequented my thought only occasionally and I never felt burdened by this while I sat to study.

Over the last part of the +2 years, my performance in class was more than satisfactory. The company of friends and teachers at the college was better than I would have ever demanded. Bro's earnings were slowly but steadily increasing and/or stabilizing. Except for a 3 day journey to police custody, the two year stay in Chitwan was largely uneventful.

But at this very time, the gnawing general sense of torment and despair evolved to be increasingly specific and personalized. The reason was, as could be expected, the intensifying armed conflict in the country. The devastating news of death and destruction led to a state of near-permanent gloom in me and I could not comprehend how lightly people took all these things and how unaffected by this they were. Over those years, even after I joined a medical school, I never acknowledged my birthdays but the ever present sense of gloom peaked on each birthday and the new year eve.

From that time onwards till the end of the insurgency in Nepal through the peaceful revolt of 2006, that sense of gloom remained, though waning in the last few years. The sense of insignificance in the society was, however, never diluted till the very moment of the revolt. What could be more painful than knowing that people were forced into injustice, tortured and brutally killed, yet being unable to do anything-- not even to speak-- about them?

Things were, fortunately, about to change as I had come some years away from my teenage and I had seen a much larger world beyond Nepal: Nepalis were not the only suffering people in the world. Though in a rather lackluster way, I began to realize that my being tormented and miserable little helped the world, and if at all, I might have been burdening the world with one more gloomy creature. On insignificance, there were so many insignificant people around me that, it was not that shameful or deplorable a thing as I used to assume earlier. Even if it were, worrying about insignificance was no way of getting around it: one had to act in whatever way possible.

As things evolve, I appear to be adapting quite well to the state of insignificance the way I did with the heat of Bhairahawa in summers. That is probably because my dad and mom taught me to live in most adverse of situations in life.

(This monologue is second of its kind, 'Twenty-eight years of solitude' being the first. I wrote this for my birthday that falls on 12th of Mangsir or 27th of November. Those curious enough and patient enough to make it to these lines are worthy of wishing me!! If you so wish, please do so here in the comment section.)

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